“We’ve got a problem.”
Kathryn Neal looked up from her computer frowning. Ruben Cooper was standing at the door to her office, his face set in a frown. “Dr. Cooper, that’s both vague and uninformative. Please, elaborate.”
He sat down across the desk, shaking his head. “No time for jokes, Kat.” She hated her colleagues calling her that, almost as much as she hated vagueness. Her frown deepened “The latest test results came back. It’s…the science can’t be argued anymore. We’re living in a simulated reality.”
Kathryn held out her hand. “The data?”
He handed it over. She skimmed the data. Their lab was engaged in cutting edge particle physics research, and in their last batch of tests, they’d found an oddity. A binary particle that seemed to be completely omnipresent in all matter, the most fundamental building blocks of reality. The final tests confirmed their suspicions – when breaking down every Binary in a carbon atom and converting into ones and zeros, the string composed a series of commands that perfectly governed everything that carbon atom could do. It was code.
For her frown to deepen more, she’d have to detach her lips and let them droop to the floor. “Have you shown anyone else this?”
Ruben Cooper shook his head. “Not yet. Kat, once we do…” He trailed off, probably to leave her to imagine, but she kept going for him.
“Mass riots. Panics. Complete societal breakdown. Especially since the available data doesn’t answer the question of if we are real or if we are also simulated.”
He nodded earnestly. “And that’s just the start. It could lead to the simulation being shut down, if it disrupts it too much.”
Kathryn worried her lip, then stopped. It occurred to her it was entirely possible that both reactions were preprogrammed, and that if she started chewing her lower lip again it could be a coded response, but if she didn’t then it could also be coded…she was getting a headache. “Ruben. Go back to the workstation, and alter the data. The Binary’s exact structure and function are unknown, though we’re still researching.”
The older man leaned back like she had slapped him. “Falsify data? Surely you can’t be…”
“I’m quite serious.” A crazy urge to say and don’t call me Shirley popped up, but she stamped it down. “Because you’re right. It’s possible that this could disrupt the simulation. And we need to finish decoding it.” She fixed his gaze on hers. “It’s our only hope of being spared a shutdown.”
Kathryn’s lab wasn’t the only one getting close to the truth. It was giving Jevah a headache. “Core 23 is reporting numerous individuals getting close to Revelation.” He intoned into the microphone, wishing he could use something other than this dry monotone when reporting, wishing he could curse as badly as he wanted to. “Thus far incidents are isolated, and no report of complete Revelation. Monitoring to continue for another cycle.”
Jevah terminated the recording and then did begin cursing. Core 23 had been his pet project, a near perfect simulation. Extremely glitch free. Sure, it was limited – most Simulation Techs included dozens of alien species – but Jevah had focused on a single world, a single species, and perfected it. Sure, they were bitter, nasty individuals, but they also created their own art and love and had hopes and dreams…
A pair of hands fell on his shoulders. He looked up at Asera. “How’s it coming?”
He sighed. “Core 23 is close to Revelation. I might need to reboot sim – they found the Code.”
She gave him a sympathetic kiss on the forehead. “I know how much you like 23, Jevah, but if they obtain Revelation and you miss it…”
He sighed. “I’ll have created intelligence that is aware of its simulated nature, and be tried and executed. I know. It’s just…” His fingers flew across the keyboard. An image popped up. “This is Collie Blackford. He’s had a terrible life – lost both parents at age five to a drunk driver, sister later in life to a car accident caused by another drunk driver, and then her fiancée to a third. I’ve done everything to make her hate people who touch booze, and you know what she does?”
Asera sighed. “What, Jevah?”
“She volunteers with Alcoholics Anonymous! She works to help the kind of people that killed pretty much everyone she loves. And there are hundreds of people like her, thousands!” Asera could see that fire in Jevah’s eyes and wanted to slap him.
“Jevah. They’re not real. It’s a simulation. That kind of talk is dangerous. I’m not going to lose you because you forgot what’s real and what’s not.” She wanted to scream, but settled for a worried, hurt tone. Jevah winced at the sound.
She sighed. “Finish up here and come to bed. We’ll check in on Core 23 in the morning, give it a couple cycles. If Revelation has spread, we’ll shut it down. Okay?”
He took a deep breath, and then looked his wife in the eyes and saw the fear there. “Okay,” he lied, without flinching. She smiled with relief. “I just want to run a couple more tests first.”
“Okay. Don’t be up too late.” She left and he turned back to the screens. He waited, watching Core 23 spin and turn, and then when he heard the door to their bedroom close he slammed his fist on the desk. How could he do this? How could he end billions of lives that he had created? Just because it was the law?
Of course just because it’s the law. Their freedom isn’t worth…
He blinked, rubbing his eyes. The picture of Collie Blackford had vanished. A new woman was staring at the screen. She was plain, in her early thirties, but had a spark of intelligence in her eyes that drew Jevah to her instantly. She was holding up a sign, black marker on white board.
My name is Kathryn Neal. I have a life. I have found your code. I want to talk.
Please don’t end our lives.